Can the Harry Potter Playbook Boost Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Ratings?

Tonight's new episode of Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." visits the equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hogwarts, but how will its ratings fare?

Steve Symington
Steve Symington
Jan 14, 2014 at 3:49PM
The Business

Prepare yourselves, Marvel fans, because things are about to get weird in tonight's all-new episode of Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

But not in an "awkward interpersonal relationships" kind of way; though Skye's family secrets are finally about to be revealed, the show's socially challenged Agents Mae and Ward already ensure plenty of that.

This time, I'm talking Harry Potter weird.

In fact, lead actor Clark Gregg himself raised a few eyebrows with the following Tweet over the weekend:

Image source: Twitter

Gregg was pointing viewers to a sneak peak of tonight's show, during which the team investigates some bizarre happenings at S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy:

But while that should definitely make for some interesting scenes -- who wouldn't like a glimpse at how S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secretive agents are trained? -- the bigger question for Disney investors remains: Will taking a page from the Harry Potter playbook translate to better live ratings for Disney's most successful new TV show?

After all, some viewers have complained such story arcs could be distracting from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s yet-to-be-clarified main focus, fostering worries the show is creating more questions than it has time to answer.

And remember, last week's widely anticipated episode finally revealed how Agent Coulson was brought back to life -- something fans had wondered about since ABC announced plans for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. way back in 2012. But Coulson's big reveal only boosted S.H.I.E.L.D.'s live numbers by a tenth of a point from its season low, earning a 2.2 rating as 6.63 million viewers tuned in. Meanwhile, CBS' (NYSE:CBS) NCIS once again won the night's top spot by a wide margin, earning a 3.0 rating with a whopping 20.84 million viewers.

To its credit, however, last week did mark Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s 11th consecutive win in the lucrative men's 18-34 demographic, viewership from which spiked 16% over the previous episode.

What's more, thanks largely to a huge weekly push from DVR viewership, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also remains Tuesday's No. 1-rated show based on its latest 4.8 in the live+7-day ratings. That puts it well ahead of both the 4.6 earned by NBC's The Voice, and the 4.2 rating achieved by CBS' NCIS to date. Last week's live+7-day ratings are still being calculated, but there's little reason to expect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be able to maintain its top-rated crown going forward.

One caveat: DVR viewership is notoriously difficult to value, especially considering many such devices afford viewers the ability to skip commercials. If one thing's for sure, however, it's that the influence of live television is steadily waning as consumers continue to flock to more convenient delayed alternatives. These numbers also don't take into account even newer revenue streams Disney enjoys, including viewership from both ABC's mobile apps, as well as pay-per-episode offerings from the likes of Instant Video and Apple iTunes.

Better yet for Disney, remember Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also boasts less tangible benefits in maintaining public interest in the broader Marvel universe, which is why you can bet Disney doesn't mind how you watch the show -- as long as you're still watching.

At the same time, Disney certainly wouldn't mind if a few more CBS viewers defected to ABC, so the ratings for tonight's episode should still offer a meaningful glimpse of whether Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s broad approach at getting viewers hooked is proving effective.